Small abattoirs could be forced to raise the cost of slaughter or risk going out of business if a Treasury proposal to recover the full costs of veterinary inspections of animals and carcasses is implemented, the Forum of Private Business has warned.

The Food Standards Agency is developing proposals, in consultation with the industry, on possible changes to charging arrangements for meat hygiene controls and the possible introduction of charges for Specific Risk Material controls.

Small abattoirs are charged an average amount for each animal inspected rather than a full veterinary fee, which can be as much as £90/hour.

Large abattoirs, which can handle 60 animals an hour, are capable of absorbing the full fees.

But small abattoirs, slaughtering as few as 30 or 40 animals a week, are likely to struggle, says the FPB.

Bob Salmon, the forum’s food adviser, said:

“There may only be just over 230 small abattoirs left, but 60,000 farm and catering businesses depend on them.

Big abattoirs simply don’t want to handle small numbers of animals.”

As well as criticising the proposed rise in charges, Mr Salmon said there was no need to have vets in small abattoirs all the time.

He argued that when a new inspection system was set up after the BSE crisis, government wrongly interpreted an EU regulation as meaning that a qualified vet should inspect animals and carcasses in abattoirs.

“There are highly qualified meat inspectors in every abattoir, who are quite capable of carrying out all the necessary inspection tasks,” said Mr Salmon.

The FSA rebuffed the comments.

“The EU regulations allow veterinarians to be assisted by official auxiliaries and do not require the veterinarian to be permanently present in small slaughterhouses.

The Meat Hygiene Service is working with the industry to make use of this flexibility,” said an FSA spokesman.

He also dismissed suggestions that the agency was proposing to recover the full cost of these controls at this time.

“The consultation sought views on whether the present charging system, which provides a subsidy to industry, should be retained,” said the spokesman.

The FSA is considering the responses.

andrew.watts@rbi.co.uk